By: Harrison Baker

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) presumes that certain diseases and ailments are service connected if the affected veteran was exposed to Agent Orange. Agent Orange was used primarily in Vietnam for foliage clearing from 1962 to 1975.  Certain naval ships, parts of Korea, parts of Thailand, and certain aircraft, however, were also exposed to the harmful chemical.  The VA provides a list of diseases for which it will grant an automatic service connection to veterans exposed to Agent Orange.


A large part of this list consists of certain types of cancers. A diagnosis of cancer is almost always stressful and can often be confusing. Apart from the medical confusion, the cancers presumptively connected by the VA can also create misunderstandings. For example, a Vietnam veteran who has service connected diabetes related to Agent Orange exposure will not receive presumptive connection for liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) or colon cancer (colorectal adenocarcinoma).


What we commonly refer to as “cancer” is often many different things. Carinomas are the most common form of cancer in the body. Carcinomas normally start in the body tissue. The common carcinomas include breast, colon, and lung cancer. Sarcomas are very rare and are made of different things than a carcinoma. The most common sarcoma is gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST).   Blastomas normally occur in children and occur in yet a different part of cells than carcinoma or sarcoma. An adenoma denotes that the issue resides in the tissues of a gland. Lymphoma is a cancer that originates in the lymph nodes, and Leukemia is cancer of the blood. A myeloma is specifically a cancer of the blood plasma.


Very confusing, right? The VA has presumptively connected Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma for Agent Orange exposure. This is basically a cancer of the lymphoid tissue, which creates white blood cells to fight infections. Hodgkin’s disease, which is a malignant lymphoma, is also presumptively connected. The VA also recognizes prostate cancer, which would commonly be an adenocarcinoma (gland). The VA recognizes respiratory cancers for a presumptive connection. These are carcinomas that effect the areas in the lung and are broken up into non-small cell and small cell carcinoma. The tissues around the lung also can produce adenocarcinoma, which is quite common, and are classified as non-small cell carcinoma. The VA recognizes all of these categories as they relate to the lungs.

Soft tissue sarcomas are relatively uncommon, but are recognized by the VA for presumptive connection. They mainly develop in connective tissue and can include things like fibrosarcoma. However, the VA lists certain types of soft tissue sarcoma that are not connected, such as mesothelioma.  The VA will presumptively connect Leukemia as well if it is chronic B-cell Leukemia. These also involve the lymph nodes and are divided into what are commonly referred to as PLL and HCL. Leukemia produces too many white blood cells and can effect the immune system. The last type of cancer that the VA recognizes for presumptive connection is multiple myeloma, which is a cancer of the blood plasma.


A cancer diagnosis can be very difficult, but it is important to know what types can get an Agent Orange exposed Veteran compensation. Many veterans who are diagnosed with skin, liver, and colon cancers are concerned about a presumptive connection. Unless the diagnoses meet the VA’s presumptive list, however, the automatic connection will not apply.

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